As readers of the website know, every year I attend Noir City, the San Francisco Film Noir Festival, in search of those rare films that help me with my research here at Escape and Suspense! Often, it is the only way to view rare films that contain performances by mid-twentieth century radio actors. Or, to view films that were written by radio scriptwriters. Sometimes, it is a particular adapation of a story that is of interest because it is one that had also been adapted for radio.
This year's festival was a different experience because the focus was on noir films from around the world. So, there weren't many films in this year's lineup that fit into those stated goals. But since I don't know much about foreign film noir, I was eager to learn more.
How many films did I get to see? I made it to fourteen out of twenty-seven. In past years, I have been able to see a higher number of films, but this year, the festival got the better of me. Everything about it seemed a little more demanding this time. Instead of the typical noir B movies, this year's line-up was made up of one excellent, visually stunning film after another. Everything shown required full attention and serious emotion. I did the best I could, but perhaps this gives me an excuse to travel to some of the Noir City satellite festivals to catch ones that I missed.
Here is the list of what I saw at Noir City 12: Journey Into Fear, The Third Man, Border Incident, In the Palm of Your Hand, Too Late for Tears, The Hitch-Hiker, The Murderers Are Among Us, Berlin Express, It Always Rains on Sunday, Brighton Rock, Never Open That Door, The Black Vampire, Two Men in Manhattan, and Rififi.
One thing that the noir genres of radio, film and literature all have in common is Cornell Woolrich. We all have an intimate understanding of how the world of Woolrich works. If you are a fan of Suspense, then the film that will probably be of the greatest interest to you is No abras nunca esa puerta, (Never Open That Door) (1952). This Argentinian film was originally intended to contain adaptations of three Woorlich stories, but the anthology was cut down to two: Somebody on the Phone and Hummingbird Comes Home. The third story, If I Die Before I Wake, was released separately. The screening of No abras nunca esa puerta at Noir City 12 was the first time this film had been shown in the United States! For me, it was one of the high points of the festival, and I hope that this film reaches a wider audience.
The two Orson Welles/Joseph Cotten films that were shown are of interest to old time radio fans for a number of reasons. The first, Journey into Fear (1943) was adapted from Eric Ambler's novel of the same name and has a cast list that includes familiar names from the Mercury Theater. (It is worth noting the Edgar Barrier is the only actor who appeared in both this film and Escape's 1950 radio adaptation of the novel). There is backstory to this Orson Welles film, the last one he did for RKO, but I won't go into that here. The original was over 100 minutes long but it was cut into a 68 minute B-film. For that reason, it is considered mangled, but the performances make it worthwhile. Hans Conried has a particularly memorable performance as a magician.
The second Orson Welles/Joseph Cotten film was The Third Man, which is available on dvd, but more fun to see in the theater. The Third Man was performed on radio for the Lux Radio Theater on April 9, 1951 and there was also a BBC Radio prequel series that aired in America (1951-1952) as The Lives of Harry Lime.
Also of interest is the new restoration of Ida Lupino's 1953 film, The Hitch-hiker. This is definitely the film that captures Frank Lovejoy at his best as "the everyman".
Among the other films, the most unforgettable were The Murderers Among Us (1946), from Germany and El Vampiro Negro, (The Black Vampire), a South American remake of Fritz Lang's 1931 film M.
The Noir City satellite festivals will traveling throughout the country this year. The first stop is Seattle, February 13-17th, at Seattle's SIFF Uptown Cinema. Then, it will travel to Austin, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland (OR), and Washington D.C.